Kage Baker was fascinated with cryptids. Those are things – usually animals, sometimes people or plants – who are mythical: but who very well might be real. There are a respectable number of beasties presumed to be totally legendary, who have eventually turned out to be quite real, alive and in the best of health.
One of the most famous is the coelocanth. This is a big, nasty-tasting fish loudly presumed to have died out some time before the dinosaurs – but which was found alive and well in the Indian Ocean in 1938. It is the exemplar of the living fossil. Kage was especially fond of it because we learned the story in grade school, and she was wildly intrigued. And to make it even more interesting, a second population of the fish was found only a few years ago off the Sumatra coast: so these fellows have not only not been extinct, they have been doing very well indeed over the years.
Lots of small beasties are misplaced, misidentified and then found again: small plants and fungi, little birds distinguishable from other little birds only by the curve of their beaks, frogs and newts and salamanders confined in small, weird ecosystems like lost caves and the cups of bromeliad flowers … it’s easy to see how that happens. When you are a tiny frog who lives its life inside a big flower 200 feet up a tree in an Amazon jungle, small wonder you don’t make the cover of National Geographic very often! Kage was nonetheless interested in these critters, because any lost-then-found animal was an obvious Company project.
Also, she just liked cryptids. The idea that someone once saw an animal so odd that it’s been assumed to a product of bad wine for 1,000 years – until it gets shipped to a biologist in London – just amused the hell out of her. And a lot of the animals so described, traduced and then re-discovered have been good-sized animals, too; things that had no business being overlooked in a local bromeliad … Okapi. Gorillas. Kouprey. Pink dolphins, giant squid and komodo dragons. All of them were fairly recently promoted from legends to live animals.
Kage was pleased to see large new mammals and birds being found, but she didn’t like lizards. She wasn’t fond of reptiles anyway, and komodos quite repulsed her. Monitor lizards (which is what they are) do not have much in the way of warm fuzzy vibes, and komodos are especially voracious and dispassionate predators. They still eat quite a few Indonesians natives and tourists visiting their rocky island home; especially since the Indonesian Islamic governments have been discouraging the fishermen from sacrificing goats to them – turns out sacrificing goats to the local monitor lizards can have real, practical uses in the modern world …
It’s been a good couple of years for monitor lizards, though. Several quite large species have been found and described for the first time. One of them is even rather gaudy, being bright pink; indigenous to the Galapagos, it was somehow overlooked by Charles Darwin on his famous trip, and not found until 2009. (Kage, when she learned of it, was amused – although she said that she thought the world had enough big lizards, and if we had to have another, couldn’t we have traded the salt-water crocodile for it?) In 2010, a fruit-eating monitor lizard was found in the Phillippines – very unusual, most monitor lizards being carnivorous. Both these creatures were literally human-sized, and yet no one had known they were there until the last two years.
It’s conceivable that only the locals knew about the frugiverous monitor lizard; despite being 5 to 6 feet long, it also lives in the tops of trees. Still – a lizard the size of a man, that lives in the trees? You’d think someone would have remarked on that. And while the Galapagos Islands are indeed very isolated, it’s still amazing that a 4-foot long, bright pink lizard went unnoticed until the end of the 20th century.
On the other hand, no one was entirely sure that Pygmies existed until the 19th century – and they are human beings, who hunt and trade with other people. Small wonder we missed the gorillas; small wonder we continued to miss the 125,000 lowland gorillas only found in the Congo in 2008.
They all went on to Kage’s lists, her roster of the found, re-discovered or never-before-seen. I’m still keeping the lists, because it’s such a marvelous roster of life. And it’s always fun to assign an Operative to the diverse projects, too. Obviously, Nefer had a hand with the Vietnamese forest ox – but who got to wrangle the big pink iguana?
I haven’t decided yet.